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ROSE BOWL | USC VS. TEXAS | Bill Plaschke

Need a Bully? Leave It to Bevo

January 01, 2006|Bill Plaschke

LIBERTY HILL, Texas — "Hey, sweetie, you have a visitor! He's come a long way to see you, baby! Say hello to the nice man!"

The 1,725-pound beast paws the smelly earth, lowers his long and winding horns, and takes a clomp in my direction.

Thrashing his head, the burnt-orange giant slowly advances. I slowly retreat. Soon, his hot breath is on my trembling hands and my back is pressed against a rusty gate.

It's locked. Why is it locked?

"Oh, sweetie, you don't like this man from Southern California? Oh baby, I'm sure he's a nice man. C'mon honey, can't you like the nice man?"

A nice woman named Betty Baker is the behemoth's co-owner. She talks as if she's also his mommy. This would be cute, if her baby were not about to gore me.

The beast apparently has an itch on a colorful back that looks like one of those rugs they sell at Las Vegas airport gift shops. He suddenly swings his huge head around to scratch it, his horns coming within inches of my stomach.

Oh, those horns. As long as Shaq and as sharp as a skate blade, they are stained with blood that marks their continual growth. That is his blood, right?

He is staring at me again, and I can smell it, and he can smell it. My fear. My prediction that USC will win the Rose Bowl by two touchdowns.

I realize he might have just pretended to scratch himself in hopes of removing one Southern Californian's large intestine. I realize his mommy is still smiling.

"That's my good boy! Baby just wants to play, doesn't he?"

Meet Bevo XIV, the face of University of Texas football.

Meet the toughest-looking animal mascot in sports, a true longhorn, and the one university representative who really can hook 'em.

His face is on their helmet and his horns are on their fingers, this galoot who has inspired tears and cheers and, at this moment, has me trapped and terrified in a pen on a desolate ranch in the middle of nowhere.

I'm telling the boss, this is absolutely the last time I fly 1,400 miles to interview a steak.

*

The notion that a Longhorn steer can serve as a university's most notable representative is actually not such a bad one.

Bevo, after all, is more than just a symbol.

Many years ago, he was also dinner.

The first Bevo made his debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1915, dragged onto the field for the Longhorns' game against Texas A&M.

He was too rough for regular duty, though, and, four years later, was slaughtered and then eaten at the football banquet.

Ninety years later, times, and appetites, have changed.

"Bevo attends roasts," says his co-owner, John T. Baker, Betty's husband. "But it's not that kind of roast."

No, Bevo is a celebrity these days, leaving his ranch outside Austin to appear at everything from presidential inaugurations to birthday parties to, of course, football games.

Even as his team has frequently failed to show up for big moments during a 35-year national championship drought, Bevo has always been there.

Standing or sitting beyond the sidelines. Drinking Gatorade or Sprite-laced water. Staring solemnly during the playing of "The Eyes of Texas." Stomping off sadly after losses.

The players are scared of him. Opponents don't trust him.

"He's our main deal, our symbol, our representative, not only for the football team, but for the entire university," says Larry Falk, director of operations for Texas athletics.

OK, so he's a representative that once relieved himself on the Nebraska logo while leaving the field after a Big 12 championship victory.

And yes, he's a symbol who long ago stormed the Rice bench during a game, delivering the ultimate late hits.

And sure, he's an official who, in a previous incarnation, broke up a tailgate party by battering a parked car.

And, all right, it's sort of creepy to have an academic institution fronted by a guy whose real name is Sunrise Studly.

But you get the point.

"When people see him and see the 'Bevo' across his nose, they know it's us," Falk says.

Of course, Bevo XIV is coming to the Rose Bowl. He is leaving his home here with his four student handlers and making the two-day drive in an air-conditioned orange trailer.

The first night, they'll stop in Las Vegas, where you could win a bet by guessing that he's sleeping in a pen right off the Strip.

On Tuesday, they'll roll into Los Angeles, where he will stay at a riding club whose name will not be divulged, for which Bevo XIV is eternally grateful.

Throughout history, whenever rivals have wanted to tweak the Longhorns, they have gone right to the source.

Bevo has been kidnapped, painted and, in the most famous episode, branded with the 13-0 final score of the Texas A&M victory in 1915.

According to legend, the steer got his name from aghast but enterprising students who attempted to save face by altering the "13-0" brand into "Bevo."

Later, research concluded that a writer for a university publication named Bevo as a play on the word, "Beeve," which is Texas slang for cattle that will later be eaten.

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